Area greenhouses offer broad, beautiful selection

What a stunning day. We three friends did a commercial greenhouse tour and really, why does anyone start plants from seed? The offerings were gorgeous; the selection broad; and at one stop there were cookies.

I picked up a few of this and that and am leaving them under the covered porch to acclimate. I am reluctant to introduce plants into my greenhouse from another one. So far my greenhouse has been pest free and I would like to keep it that way. Wish me luck.

That said, I felt like a fisherman last week. I needed to devise something to deter cutworms from the cole crops and I have had all winter to come up with a solution. What did I do? Wait until the last minute and then scramble around like a crazy woman. John, in his usual unflappable mode, took me here and there in search of I-didn’t-know-what. I won’t even tell you what I settled on because I don’t think it will work.

My usual method is to slide a 4-inch skewer down the side of the stem to keep them from cutting through and toppling the plant. But the last couple of years I have been planting out seedlings much earlier than usual and the worms are just getting started. If I would wait, they would be on their way but, no, I need to plant NOW. All that gets me are dead seedlings. These creatures will climb up a leaf that is laying on the ground or even near the ground. It isn’t just the stem. The whole plant is vulnerable.

I went ahead and planted this afternoon, after a most excellent morning. A bright sunny day is NOT optimum. A nice overcast day with a soft rain is the ticket. Not only was the sun blasting but we had our usual day breeze that whips through here each and every day. It’s a great way to keep the bugs at bay but not so great for tender seedlings.

I have long skipped the hardening off process for vegetables. I set them out and promptly cover them with floating row cover. All of these vegetables require cool temperatures and they will certainly get those tonight. They are actually much happier in the garden than the greenhouse. Time to move on.

The annuals are another matter. They get tender care, especially the cranberry cosmos. I love these and they make a lovely statement in the perennial border, but they loathe the cold. I need to give them plenty of time in the greenhouse and then transition them to the beds. This requires the classic hardening off process: bring them out in the morning for about three hours; back in the greenhouse. Day two: out for about five hours, back in they go. You can do this. Just keep adding hours until they are staying out all night. I like to cover them at night with floating row cover. Give them time and you will be rewarded.

Any annuals you have will benefit from pinching out the top of the plant. This will give you a bushier plant that will be sturdy and bloomy.

Another thought on planting seedlings: bury the stem. Tuck it right down there and tamp it down. You don’t want the delicate stem blowing and twisting around. Give them a fighting chance.

I like to water each seedling in with a very dilute solution of fish emulsion. Supposedly this reduces transplant shock. I have been doing it for so long and have lovely starts out there so I keep doing it. Success speaks.

Here’s another thought for you: I like to plant spinach over the potatoes. It takes potatoes forever to make an appearance and the spinach is up and out of there before the potato foliage can shade it. And for the spinach plants that I have missed in the harvest the shading has worked to their advantage, it slows the bolting that is the bane of spinach. This makes good use of space. Think about this.

Here’s what I planted from seed last week: peas, spinach, lettuce, radish, chard, carrots, potatoes. Today the seedlings went out: three kinds of broccoli, three kinds of cauliflower, lettuce, leeks, two kinds of onions, shallots, fennel (plus more seeded in), and two artichokes.

There is more to do, but, hey, enough is enough.

We are eating radishes and lettuce from the greenhouse. The rhubarb is looking good and the sorrel is harvestable.

Right now I am all about food. The tomatoes are blooming and the Royal Burgundy beans are flourishing in the greenhouse. I have Jacob’s Cattle and Vermont cranberry beans soaking. I tried these last year and you certainly need to plant a massive amount (which I don’t do) of these to get much of anything but it was fun and the beans were delicious slow cooked last winter. The “grands” were particularly impressed as beans and rice is one of their favorite meals.

Don’t be in a hurry. Wait for an overcast day. But if time is a crunch, plant when you can. Remember this is your garden. Think about what you want to eat and how much of it you really need.

The greenhouses are loaded for bear. Go forth.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.